Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas/Stuffed Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! It is not hard to make, it doesn’t take a lot of time but it is delicious, beautiful and very traditional. And if you really want to taste a piece of Holland, stick to the recipe!
Let us start with a little history, about the Netherlands and spices. Until 1800 cloves, mace and nutmeg are exclusively found on the Maluku Islands, in the East Indian Archipelago. That’s why these islands are called ‘the spice islands’. To make one’s fortune in Europe through the spice trade, one needed a monopoly on the European trade. Since 1500 the Portuguese owned that monopoly.
The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, too, wanted to get rich from the spice trade, and established the Dutch East India Company around 1600, to join forces. Since 1660 the monopoly on spice trade was firmly in Dutch hands. In the Dutch Golden Age, roughly the 17th century, the republic got rich through this trade, and flourished like never before, economically, artistically and scientifically. In many Dutch cities the heritage of this century is still visible. Sadly, this wealth must be considered in the light of war and repression. The Dutch used much violence and oppressed people to establish and defend their monopoly.
Only after World War II Dutch India became independent from the Netherlands. Until that moment the trade of spices, coffee, rubber, tobacco, opium, sugar, indigo and tea from Dutch India contributed significantly to the Dutch economy. In light of this historical involvement of the Netherlands in the spice trade, the contents of my kitchen cupboard are not surprising. Anise seeds, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, lemon grass, mace, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, curry powder, cumin, coriander seeds, cloves, galangal, mustard seed, nutmeg, paprika, allspice, saffron, vanilla, fennel, white pepper, black pepper. And that’s without the long list of herbs.
When spices had become commonly available in the 17th century, bakers’ guilds began to make their secret spice mixtures. A mixture that gloriously survived the ages is ‘speculaaskruiden’ (speculaas spices). Speculaaskruiden contain at least cinnamon, cloves, mace and ginger, and these spices to taste: pepper, cardamom, coriander, anise seeds and nutmeg. The smell of speculaaskruiden is overwhelming, especially when you take the trouble to mix them yourself. The deliciously warm and woody aroma is a perfect fit for the chilly Dutch winter months.
From the golden age onward, this spice mixture was used to bake a crisp, buttery biscuit: speculaas. For centuries it remained a luxury item, baked only in the holiday season, and often given as a present. Sometimes bakers made the dough three months in advance so that the flavor would permeate the dough. Ever since the 15th century, the 6th of December has been celebrated as the nameday of St. Nicholas, combined with an exchange of gifts on the evening before. But in the age of the Dutch East India Company St. Nicholas became associated with speculaas. And that is not so strange, as St. Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors as well as many bakers’ guilds.
In the course of time many recipes using speculaas spices have been created. Speculaasjes (“speculaas cookies / windmill cookies”) which are shaped using a wooden mold, speculaasbrokken (“speculaas chunks”), kruidnoten (“spiced nuts / miniature spiced cookies”), gevulde speculaas (“speculaas stuffed with almond paste”). And that is not the end of it: speculaas spices can be used in custards, cakes, muffins, bread toppings, cheesecake crusts and so on.
Ginnamon 40 to 60 % of the total amount
Ground cloves 1 or 2 parts
Mace ½ or 1 part
Ginger ½ or 1 part
White pepper ½ or 1 part
Cardamom ½ or 1 part
Coriander ½ or 1 part
Anise ½ or 1 part
Nutmeg 1 or 2 parts
A convenient way to mix the spices is as follows:
- Take at least 1 or 2 teaspoons of ground cloves, ½ or 1 teaspoon of mace and ½ or 1 teaspoon of ginger.
- Add to taste ½ or 1 tsp white pepper, ½ or 1 tsp cardamom, ½ or 1 tsp coriander, ½ or 1 tsp anise, and 1 or 2 tsp nutmeg.
- Measure or weigh the amount of spices you have now, and add an equal amount of cinnamon.
- This method yields at least 4 teaspoons and at most 18 teaspoons of spices.
- If you plan to mix just a few spices, use bigger or more spoons to get a reasonable amount.
- Take your time to smell the ingredients individually before you decide how much to add.
- And remember the proportions, that will make adjustments easier next time.
- Store the spices airtight, dry and dark, they will not spoil for a long time.
7/8 cup (210 ml)(125 gm)(4½ oz) raw almonds OR 1-1/3 cups (320 ml)(125 gm) (4½ oz) ground almonds
5/8 cup (150 ml) (125 grams) (4½ oz) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) lemon zest
- If the raw almonds still have their brown skins, remove them as follows. Bring water to a boil.
- Add the almonds, cook them for one minute, drain immediately and let cool for a few minutes.
- Rub them between your fingers to remove the skins. Grind for one or two minutes in a food processor.
- Add the sugar, and grind for another one or two minutes. It must be very fine after this step.
- Add the egg and let the food processor combine it or combine it with your fingers.
- Store the almond paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Although the flavor gets better with time, it is not wise to store for too long as it contains a raw egg.
- For the same reason you should not eat the paste unbaked.
1¾ cups (250 gm) (9 oz) all purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
¾ cup (150 grams) (5-1/3 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) speculaas spices
3/4 cup (1½ stick) (175 gm) (6 oz) unsalted butter
a pinch salt
- Put flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices in a bowl. Cut the butter in dices and add.
- Knead until smooth. Feel free to add a little milk if the dough is too dry.
- Wrap in clingfoil and put in the refrigerator for two hours.
Assembling and Baking Gevulde Speculaas
- Grease a shallow baking pan, 8×10 inch (20×26 cm) or, round with of diameter 10 inch (26 cm).
- Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas 4. Divide the dough into two portions.
- Roll out both portions on a lightly floured surface, until they are exactly as big as the baking pan.
- Put one of the layers in the pan and press it lightly to fill the bottom.
- Lightly beat the egg with a teaspoon cold water. Smear 1/3 of the egg over the dough in the pan.
- Roll out the almond paste between two sheets of clingfoil, until it is exactly as big as the pan.
- Put it on the dough in the pan. (If you chose to make the paste soft, you can smear the paste instead of rolling it.)
- Press the paste lightly down to fit in the pan, and smear the next 1/3 of the egg over it.
- Now put the second layer of dough on top of the paste, press it lightly, and make as smooth as possible.
- Smear the last 1/3 of the egg over the dough. Decorate the pastry with the almonds.
- Bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven. Let cool completely in the pan, then cut it in portions as you like.
- If you wrap the stuffed speculaas in clingfoil, after it has cooled completely, you can store it a few days at room temperature.
Speculaas spices: Store them airtight, dry and dark, and they will not spoil for a long time.
Speculaas dough: Can be kept in the refrigerator for days, or in the freezer for months. But remember, fresh tastes better.
Gevulde Speculaas, Traditional Dutch Pastry